Is pet insurance an imperative purchase or are we barking mad to be forking out £20/£30 a month for a terrier? The tough recent financial climate has been well documented but whilst it was estimated that 48% of UK households owned at least one pet, over half do not have insurance for their canine companions and two thirds haven’t covered their feline friends.
There is no question that pets are expensive members of any household (dogs cost an average of £16’000 over the course of their lifetime) but this sum can balloon if we fail to take out a suitable pet insurance policy.
Choosing the “best policy” is by no means an easy task – there are hundreds of policies out there, and they vary hugely in price and in terms of what they offer. The most popular type of policy is lifetime cover, which is promoted by 9 out of 10 vets. This covers vet fees up to a certain amount per year and, provided you renew your policy, it gives you the same amount of cover each year no matter how many claims you make. Whilst it’s usually the priciest, it means you are covered if your pet develops a long-term condition.
I recently made an enquiry with reputable Pet Insurance Company “Pet Plan” regarding how much it would cost to take out their “covered for life” insurance (asking for a cover of £7’000 per year) on a 2 year old Burmese cat and an unborn English Beagle. After being asked a variety of questions (the price of the quote will depend on where you live (more traffic in urbanized areas), age and pedigree) she said the price for both animals came to £32.40 per month. Whilst this seems a reasonable price in all fairness, it is important to hold on the line as by the time I had begun to retract my interest, I was pitched with a couple of new offers – 2 months free cover and 10% off. Furthermore, one should also keep an eye on an insurance company’s excess (what the policyholder must pay towards the cost of a claim) and note that pre-existing medical conditions will not be covered.
I received valuable information from the practice manager at the New Era Veterinary Hospital, Tim De Gruchy, who makes it clear that the most important aspect of taking out a policy is to “always read and understand the full terms and conditions before you sign up for pet insurance”.
Recently for example, there has been much debate concerning the “two week exclusion loophole”. So that you don’t get any nasty surprises, it was put in place to relieve insurance companies of any obligations for pets in the first two weeks of cover. The insurance industry claims, it is there to stop people taking out a policy when they know their pet needs treatment, then waiting a couple of weeks before claiming. If you are planning on changing policy therefore, it is paramount to take it out two weeks before the end of your last one so that you’re pet is always covered against new problems. Also, if you are changing policies, (even if it is a new policy through the same advisor), be aware that any conditions which started before the commencement of your new policy will not be covered. This means that if your pet has an ongoing condition, swapping policies is normally not cost effective.
Tim De Gruchy also gave his own perspective on the insurance sphere, “In our experience, Pet Insurance is an extremely competitive market where over 50 different UK companies offer cover and a range of policies that tailor themselves to the needs of the Pet Owner. With such a wide number of options it’s no wonder people struggle to choose the right policy for them. Regulations prevent us from recommending one company over another but there are notable differences in the service and quality of the policies on the market. Whether you should insure your pet is a choice that, if selected, should offer you peace of mind if a condition or incident arises, depending on the policy details you have agreed.”
What to consider
The annual cost of the insurance policy
The breed, age and overall health of your pet. Some breeds are more prone to health problems, which is reflected in increased insurance premiums.
What conditions and treatments are covered under the policy. If your pet has been ill before being insured, these conditions will probably be excluded from cover.
Term or Life cover i.e. whether a condition is claimable just for a specified time period, or for the entire lifetime of your pet. Term policies may be cheaper, but they will not provide adequate cover for an ongoing medical condition.
Policy excess (i.e. whether the excess is charged per condition or claim), and whether you are required to pay a percentage of the treatment.
Maximum cover. Many cheaper policies have a lower level of maximum cover, which may not fully cover some veterinary fees.
Repayment period for reimbursement. Some companies take longer to pay you back than others.
How simple is it to make a claim, and whether your claim be processed online.
If dissatisfied, over what period of time are you able to cancel the policy.
How it works
Once your pet has had veterinary care, processing a claim form is usually straightforward. You can speak to your vets as to whether your account should be settled at the time, or whether it can instead be reclaimed from the insurance company. As for any business, vets do require prompt payment. If your vet has agreed the insurance company can pay your bill directly, this should be indicated on the insurance form, but please remember you will normally still need to pay you excess at the time. Finally, submit a completed claim form to your vet, who will then add details of clinical notes and veterinary fees, before forwarding it to your Insurance Company, who will then arrange payment (to yourself/ the vet as appropriate).
Pet ownership is about the care, love and the bond between you and your pet. Safe guarding their welfare is your responsibility. It is your choice whether to take out pet insurance, and there’s no right or wrong answer as to whether to have pet insurance, or which policy to chose. However, it can be an invaluable safety net if your pet suffers an accident or illness, so always seek professional advice rather than trusting the Internet.